Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” In the six weeks I have been working on this memoir, I have cried more than a handful of times. The first 10-to-20-pages were easy, like opening a cage letting birds fly free. The words flowed out of mind with such ease, but it was merely the onramp to a long highway. As I began to dig deeper, look at issues and moments in my life with my mother, I had to accept that not everything would be rosy and wonderful – life isn’t that way. As I allowed myself to see my mother as a human being who loved, longed, worried, dreamed, and did what she needed to do to survive, I began to see the pictures and letters and other memorabilia differently.
That realization hurt, not because I felt betrayed, it hurt because my mother is gone and I can’t sit next to her to listen to her story, or ask her questions about decisions she made, situations she walked toward or away from. It hurt because I am left to put the pieces of her puzzle together without her.
When I came to this realization I knew what chapter I had to really tackle first – her death. Reliving those months from the day of Papa’s funeral (my best friend Muffy’s father) to the day Mum died was exactly six months. I was pregnant with my first child. It was wonderful and awful, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I was a walking time bomb of emotions.
In going back and drudging up those emotions, I was amazed at how inaccurate my memory was. I thought I remembered every moment from the time we admitted her to Greenwich Hospital to her surgeries, to the moment she nearly died, to the time she was scheduled to come home, but we had lost power, to the moments she took her last breath. I had written about five or six pages when I remembered I had written a little during that time period. I went back to the trusty plastic container and found the journal.
I sobbed as I read the pages. There weren’t too many entries, maybe a dozen or so. And I had remembered wrong. I had blanked out days and gotten the order wrong, but of course my faulty memory didn’t alter the outcome. While I couldn’t believe I had gotten it so wrong, I was also happy to have the archival evidence to rely upon. But reading what happened, in real time, tugged so deeply at my heart.
So then I took William Wordsworth’s advice, “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” It hurt like hell and I wrote about losing the most important person in my life. If it doesn’t hurt, if it doesn’t pull on your heart, then it isn’t worth reading.